WING_FAB12

Elly Robo Joins the Fight for the Chinatown-ID

Seattle is known as a tech town – Microsoft, Amazon, Adobe, the list goes on. And when word came out last fall that nearby neighborhood Pioneer Square, despite the ensuing impacts of the recession, was home to tech businesses with about 1,800 employees and $1 billion a year in combined revenue, well, frankly, we in the Chinatown-ID felt like the poor kid next door.

Thankfully, Elly Robo is here to save the day! On February 9, 2012, Asian American Arcade opened as the newest exhibition at the Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience. Featuring the work of 11 contemporary artists, Asian American Arcade follows video games out of the arcades and into an art exhibition. As visitors explore questions of identity and community, imagination and learning, and the power of play in our lives, their artwork does more than just delight. It provides one more avenue for us to change perceptions of our “ghetto” neighborhood and draw more customers here. Designers, tech industry workers and video game players (“gamers”) are flocking to the Chinatown-ID to see the exhibition, grab a bite to eat and visit nearby shops. The all important word-of-mouth is spreading that the Chinatown-ID is fresh, cool and the place to be.

Here’s what we learned in the making:

1. Leverage exclusive access with art exhibitions. One of our staff members is an avid gamer. She knows when new games are being released, will stand in line late at night to buy them, and then take vacation to play them the entire next day. But even in this exhibition, there are games she’s only heard about online, watching YouTube clips of people’s play, but has never been able to physically play. Flower, created by artist Jenova Chen, is one such game. And that’s where the couch comes in. Plopped down right in the middle of the gallery in front of a big screen, visitors can sit and play to their hearts delight.

2. Make it social. The exhibition’s community advisory committee – comprised of software programmers, digital technology professors and high school to career age gamers – emphasized that beyond the bright flashes and loud noises, video games are in essence games. And they wanted to be sure to bring game play into the exhibition – not just through playable video games but a gallery game where visitors choose a character and embark on a quest through the exhibition itself in search of adventure, wisdom and hidden treasure. Visitors have to seek out other visitors, challenging them to battle (“rock, paper, scissors,” anyone?), and advancing further in the game. And significantly, they have to come to the Chinatown-ID to do it.

Asian American Arcade runs through June 17, 2012. Featuring artists: Peter Brinson and Kurosh ValaNejad, Jenova Chen, Donald Daedalus, Jonathan Wakuda Fischer, Hellen Jo, Calvin Wong and Derek Yu, Thien Pham and Gene Luen Yang, and Ken Taya. Chinatown-ID neighborhood business partner: Pink Gorilla Games (on 6th & King, just west of the Chinatown Gate). Come play with us!

IMAGE: Elly Robo by artist Ken Taya.

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